With AMC’s award-winning series Mad Men airing new episodes Sunday nights, I recently had the chance to participate in a roundtable interview with Jessica Pare. Since the cast is always guarded when talking about upcoming episodes, most of the interview covered the twists and turns of last season, how much she finds out about upcoming storylines, Megan and Don’s (Jon Hamm) relationship, going from guest star to series regular, the wardrobe, and more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to what Pare had to say.
Before going any further…spoilers from previous seasons and the season 6 premiere are discussed during this interview.
If you’d like to listen to the audio of this interview, click here. Otherwise the full transcript is below. Look for another Mad Men interview soon.
JESSICA PARE: Well, a lot of things, but I think, first of all, one of the great things about the show in general is that there are no characters that are solely stereotypes or archetypes of that era, or any era. They’re all full and real people, so they don’t represent one single idea or movement at all times of their existence, but I think Megan is probably part of the first generation of women that thought that she could have a career and a family life without so many social barriers. I think she’s one of the first who thought it’s just there for the taking.
Do you think Don resents her career? I mean, it happened at the end of last season, so we know that. So maybe you could talk about that. Do you think that going forward, the fact that she is a working wife, that he won’t be happy with that?
PARE: I don’t know. I think that just as she’s sort of one of the first of a group of women who are, like, “Oh, I can have it all,” as they say, I think that’s really new for him, too. I mean, certainly it wasn’t part of his first marriage, and here he is having to adapt to this sort of new social norm that women were going to be in the home but also in the workplace.
So many women have thrown themselves at Don over the years. Why did Megan get him?
PARE: I don’t know, ask him. Also, are you kidding? It’s Megan. No, I think that first of all, when he first proposes to her, in Episode 13 of Season 4, I think it’s seen, for pretty obvious reasons, as the easier choice, and early on, in Season 5, we learn that it’s not that black and white. But I think that it kind of felt like, “Why is he marrying like the young secretary?” I know. But also, she adores this guy, and she accepts him for exactly who he is, and the person that she sees is vibrant, and joyful, and loving, and warm, and fun, and nobody else sees him that way. I mean, Betty never saw him that way. Nobody at work sees him that way. Maybe Anna Draper saw something warm and soft, but until Megan, nobody really saw him as like a fun summertime Don.
PARE: Yeah, well, I mean, I think it’s such a nice… I mean, who doesn’t want that? Who doesn’t want to be seen in that light? And I think that he wants to be that person, and that’s why it feels so good.
What do we see with the relationship with Don’s kids, because those are always great scenes, and Megan’s very different with them than Betty is, of course. Do we see more of that this season?
PARE: Let’s see, how can I…? There are kids in this season.
When you were involved in Season 4, how much did you know, going in, where the arc was going to go? In Season 5, how much did you know? And this season, how much did Matthew tell you?
PARE: Nothing, nothing, nothing. I mean, you guys know, I mean, we just had that conversation. They’re so tight-lipped about it, and the special challenge for me working on this… I’ve done work, a little bit in TV, but mostly in film where you’re handed your whole character arc before you even get the job. You know where you’re going. So with this, it’s such a challenge. At first when I started, I think I auditioned, the character description was, like, female, brunette, so I was like I’m perfect for this. Check, check. But so they didn’t say anything about where it was going to go. They said it might be three or more episodes, which I was really excited about. This is better, but I was really excited about that. I was so excited to have my first episode, and I got my first script, and it had one line, and it was “Yes, Joan.” I was like a little disappointed for 30 seconds, and then I was like, “Jessica, come on, it’s one line, but it’s one line on Mad Men and it’s ‘Yes, Joan.’ It’s not yes, Gertrude, or anything. Like you’d be having a scene with Joan.”
So as the pages came through, it was a challenge to not play anymore than what was on the page, which there wasn’t much of, because I didn’t want to kind of like act myself out of a job, you know? I found out about the engagement because when we were shooting the second-to-last episode of that season, Season 4, our props master came and measured my ring finger. She was, like, I don’t know how to do this any other way. She was, like, “Sorry.” I’m like, “What do you mean sorry?” But I didn’t want to put any stock in it, because I was, like, Matt could still change his mind by Monday, but he didn’t, so… Yet.
PARE: I take it script by script. Before the season, I’ll sort of do a little bit of research into the big events that happened that year, but the scripts tend to deal with cultural events of significance. So I’ll look more deeply into those when we’re shooting on that particular episode.
A little bit more about the culture, sort of the increase of the sexual freedoms and drug use, and that sort of thing. Was there anybody in particular you read, or talked to about what was going on in that world at that time? Or does it just come out of the script?
PARE: I mean, like, a lot of it does come out of the script. I mean, I read a lot of Wikipedia. There’s certainly the films of the era, and stuff, that I’ve watched a few times and that kind of thing.
As far as going into each new episode and getting each new script, kind of blind, is there somebody on-set that may know, that chit-chats, that you find out from?
PARE: Yes, some people get the scripts before the actors do, and some people because of the nature of their job get breakdowns even before that, so definitely, if you wanted to, but everybody’s pretty tight-lipped about it and not only because they’ll get in a lot of trouble, but also because I think there’s that culture on the show. It fosters this ability to consume the material in an unspoiled way. You haven’t heard a ton about what’s going to happen, so you don’t already have ideas, so you read the script the same way that somebody else will watch the episode. In a way that’s unpolluted.
With “Zou Bisou Bisou,” that gave you quite a challenge last season, because you said you had never really recorded music before. Without saying what, has he given you an equal challenge this year?
PARE: Are you asking me if I’m doing a song this year?
No, just, is there some big moment for your character like there was…?
PARE: If I’m doing another song-and-dance routine? I think the big thing about that particular scene, and that episode in general, is that we didn’t know anything about Megan, as we were saying. So it’s kind of like we learned that she’s extroverted, and joyful, and vibrant, and absolutely infatuated with this man, and we learned that not only is she working at SCDP, she’s good at it. And not only is she working well with Peggy, they’re friends, and she knows about Dick Whitman, and she knows about all this stuff, and she doesn’t care. She’s still as crazy about him. That’s a really important introduction to Megan. So in terms of your question, we don’t necessarily need that reintroduction, but I still have had work to do.
PARE: I’m actually not supposed to speak in specific terms about the premiere either, but I will say that even as pertains to last season, she’s an optimist, and she trusts him, and how much of that crosses over into what somebody else might call naivete, I think, is sort of up to you as an audience member.
Per Megan’s world, is there anything where you look at it and say, “I wish we still did this,” and anything where, “Thank God, we don’t still do that?”
PARE: Like everything. I can’t think of specific instances. I mean, there are so many nice business dinners that they go to, and they really get dressed up for, but I get to do that, so.
Less Facebook more face time?
PARE: You mean the face time…right? You know, I always feel that way when my Internet goes out for a couple of hours, and I’m like, “Wow, I can’t believe how much time I spend on that, and it’s so… My apartment’s so nice. Look at that view. It’s incredible here. It’s always sunny and whatever.” Then I’m, like, “Oh thank God, my Internet is back. My life is back.” I don’t know. I mean, I don’t really have any regrets about that kind of technology. I like it.
Talk a little bit about fashion. Was that a real Pucci that she wore in Hawaii? And basically, it seems to me like…
PARE: What? I went to Hawaii?
…Megan’s character seems to… Part of the reason that she’s there is to be the younger and freer element with the show, and she seems to dress more like what we think of as the 60s, whereas someone like Peggy is still… They make her look really old for her age. Is that part of what Megan’s fashion thing is, is to be the young, hip one on the show?
PARE: Yeah, I think so, I mean…
If that’s Pucci, though, I really loved it.
PARE: I don’t know.
See I’m old enough to remember those.
PARE: I know Pucci. Well, just in answer to your question, I don’t remember that specific dress — I assume it was a dress — but yes, it is a younger sort of like freer, more like later 60s sort of a wardrobe. It’s more playful and less practical.
Do you get to keep any of it?
Oh my God, I would talk my way into that.
PARE: You can try. Janie [Bryant] has an iron fist.
Can you talk about working with Jon [Hamm]. He can be light himself but as Don, he’s hard. How is it to act with that?
PARE: I’ll tell you guys something [laughs], I was scared of him at first. I was a fan of the show before and so it was intimidating to start working on the show and all these characters just seemed larger than life. Then you meet them and they are all real people except for Jon who is freakin’ huge. But, as you say, he’s so charismatic. He’s so intelligent and funny and very interested in the person in front of him. But he’s also extraordinarily talented and it’s at once comforting but also I feel like I want to hold my own in a scene with him. He’s so amazing, I don’t want to be the drag.
What’s it like working with him as a director?
PARE: Well, it’s great because of all those qualities — the intelligence, the interest and his talent — make him a very good director. He’s really there, in there, in that scene with you — literally sometimes. But, even when I have a scene with somebody else, he’s so in tune with what my character is going through at that time that it’s actually really a joy. Also, he just gets the technical aspect of it which — every actor works differently — but for me, it’s great to a scene with him and then he’s like, “Come. See at the monitor. See how you are doing this? Don’t do that. This is really great. Don’t lose that.” There’s a technical aspect to this that you wouldn’t necessarily get with a director who’s not doing the scene with you.
PARE: Anything. I think I approach my choices much the way I approach the way I consume movies and TV and stuff. I like everything, and sometimes I’ll feel like a horror movie and sometimes I’ll just feel like an episode of Hoarders. I’m not going to be in an episode of Hoarders. But, I have very broad tastes so for me it’s about the story and the character.
How has being on the show changed the scripts you are being sent for other things?
PARE: One of the things about the show is everybody watches it. And if they don’t, they say they do [Laughs]. The President watches it. And Mick Jagger watches it. Everybody watches it. So, it’s definitely opened doors for me that before wouldn’t have been open. Would’ve been shut.
So you can go straight to producer notes instead of having to audition, is that what you’re saying?
PARE: Sometimes. I don’t mind auditioning. Sometimes, I think it’s necessary.
What else do you have coming up?
PARE: I did a film in Ireland last year called Standby. That should come out this summer.
What’s it about?
PARE: It’s a romantic comedy. I play an American, which is weird [Laughs]. I play this woman who ends up on stand by for this flight at the Dublin Airport and she runs into this guy. They dated eight years before when they were both working summers in Martha’s Vineyards. He convinces her to stay and they have this one eventful night in Dublin. It’s a re-exploring of feelings that might not be totally dead.
With something like that, how much do you stick to the script and how much do you improvise?
PARE: Working on Mad Men, everything is word for word. And, honestly, I couldn’t come up with anything better than that, so it’s fine. But, something like this, a romantic comedy in which we had a little bit of time to explore stuff, we would start with the script and if something else happened, we would go with it.
Which do you prefer, drama or comedy?
PARE: I would like to explore comedy more. It’s not something that I’ve done a lot of. Obviously, I’m very at home in drama. I like everything.
If you could write Megan’s end, what would you write?
PARE: This is so why it’s so good that I’m not a writer [Laughs]. They would just be happy and nothing bad would ever happen to them. That’s why I’m an actor.
So you don’t want her to become a big movie star and move to Hollywood?
PARE: Sure. That’s all good stuff.
Is her career going to get in the way of their marriage?
PARE: I don’t know.
Is there someone you wish you would have shared more scenes with?
PARE: I think when Megan left Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce last year, in Episode eight or nine, I missed working on that set. I get to do scenes with those people from time to time, but it’s not the same thing. But, it also means, because of the way that set is built, you have to be there a lot. You can see through the windows, especially sitting at the secretary’s desk.
Do a lot of friends want to visit when you are filming? Is that allowed?
PARE: You can bring in a few people. It’s not really my thing. I guess it’s a little part of that culture of secrecy, the protecting of the story. Because I feel like that’s what we are doing and it’s not ready. We’re working on this right now and when it’s ready, you’ll see it. Most times if I bring people to set, I’ll just bring them to meet the hair and makeup team and check out our cool base camp, look at some sets and maybe meet Matt and Marcy and that kind of thing. I don’t really let people hang out for scenes.
Do you go back to Montreal all very often?
PARE: Yeah. It’s cold right now. I was just up there and it was very freezing. But, I’ll go back in summer.
What surprises people who visit the set?
PARE: We have a really sweet base camp. It’s gorgeous. Lizzy’s the president of the base camp association so we have a little patio, plants. We all hangout together; it’s totally weird. I’ve never been on a show like that where everybody just spends time together.
Do you still shoot downtown?
How do you think it would be if Megan was in the role that Betty was in in the suburbs with the kids?
PARE: Betty is one of my favorite characters on the show. She was my favorite character on the show until I started moving in. I remember the exact moment when I went “Wait. I like Megan more now.” I think that character is so fascinating and so well drawn because you can really see how she did everything right. She had a career working as a model and she married this promising guy. She got this big house in the suburbs and she had kids and then she was miserable. She did everything that women were told they were supposed to do. It’s so interesting how you could see that evolution of her turning into that person she became.
Do you thing Megan be miserable or would she buy into this vision of life with Don?
PARE: She’s an optimist. So, she would certainly try. But, I don’t know.
Typically do you guys do two, three takes and move on? Or are there moments where you guys are hitting Take 30?
PARE: No, it’s TV, so we do move relatively quickly. There are definitely scenes where we do more takes but never that kind of volume. Generally, you get two or three takes. Maybe four, if it’s a complicated scene or more emotional. You can get more. But, it moves fast and you have to come prepared.
Are there a lot of script changes?
PARE: It changes. But we are never handed changes the day of [shooting].
PARE: It’s more like that second one.
What does the cast like to do together off set?
PARE: We see each other at a lot of events, a lot of parties. I personally think the world of them and I really like hanging out with them but we don’t go play mini-putt.
It’s nice to hear certain friendships have formed.
PARE: It remains to be seen. We’re still in the thick of it. Honestly, I can really believe my luck It’s so great that I get to work with these people but also get to spend a little bit of time with them because it’s a really great bunch.
When your Internet is working, talk a little bit about what shows you might be binge-watching right now. What have you seen recently that you’ve maybe binge-watched that you really loved?
PARE: The thing that’s really burning a hole in my DVR is Downton Abbey because I’ve only seen three episodes. I know. He dies in a ditch. What have I been watching? I’m pretty seriously hooked on Law & Order. All of them. It’s just always on. I’ll be hanging out on the Internet and it’s just on all the time.
Any plans for after this season?
PARE: Not really. [Fakes being scared] Oh my God!
PARE: I could if I wanted to but the truth of the matter is if I do still have a job on the best show on TV then I don’t want to get another job on the not the best show on TV.
Without talking about the plot can you talk a little bit about the challenges of shooting on location?
PARE: We normally shot on stages so whenever we are on location — at a restaurant or out of town — we are like “Where is everything?!” The head of the makeup department, Lana Horochowski, always says that we don’t travel well.
Do you get approached by fans a lot now?
PARE: I don’t know if it’s a lot because I don’t have anything to compare it to, But, it’s more and it’s great and it’s also a little scary for them because I’m way more excited than they are. They will be like “Do you play Megan on Mad Men?” And I’m like, “Yes I do. Can you fucking believe it?” I punched a girl in the arm in New York.
What’s the wackiest experience you have had with a fan?
PARE: Probably that, when I punched her. Well, it was more wacky on my side of things.